How to make your virtual conference your reality conference


Attending a Learning Forward conference, or almost any conference, is a perfect way to engage in focused learning; you get away from the office, your family, and oftentimes your city or state. This allows you to leave most of the cares, concerns, and distractions of your everyday life behind. There is something about making and securing your plans for the conference that solidifies its sacredness to your professional learning. Do not let this year’s experience be any different. You owe it to yourself to get the most out of the 2020 Learning Forward Conference and to take that new knowledge and understanding back to the community you serve and, most importantly, to all of your students who will be there waiting for you.

Sharing means caring

If you are attending the conference with others from your district/school, commit to meeting virtually three times. These meetings can be from 30 minutes to as long as you want to make them.

  • The first meeting is before the conference. Get together to go over the program and learn who is going to which sessions. Know in advance who will cover which topics and why.
  • The second is during the conference. Pick a day and time on one of the days of the conference to have breakfast, lunch, or dinner together virtually. Maybe you all agree on getting up an hour earlier than you normally do, before everyone in your home starts to wake up. This will give you and the team some uninterrupted time together. Remember to take pictures of this historic event.
  • The third meeting is after the conference. Schedule time to discuss when and how you will share your learning with your school or district.

Make it a virtual trip

  • Make your reservation. A week ahead of the conference, claim an area within your home that you are reserving for the three-day conference. Put a sign on the space so that everyone knows it will be yours during that time. Make it somewhere you have not already had virtual meetings. Make this a special space for this conference.
  • Plan your trip. 1) Inform those who might normally contact you during these hours that you are at a conference and are not available. This might be most important for your co-workers and your immediate family. 2) Consider distractions that would not normally be distracting. Do you need to create a plan to assist your family with meals, schoolwork, or other duties during this time? 3) How will your Sunday be affected and how do you prepare for that?
  • Pack for your trip. Prepare your space with special things. Bring in your favorite plant or coffee mug. Have your special pen or maybe a new notebook. If you do not have extra space in your home, consider how you might move things around in the same room to make it different for the conference.
  • Enjoy your ride. You have been driving your students virtually or in-person for several months now. It is your turn to get in the passenger seat and to take it all in. Get in your travel clothes and be prepared to go on a learning adventure. Remember, you cannot fall asleep while riding shotgun; although you are more relaxed, the driver is counting on you to assist with navigation.
  • Scout out the land. You know that after check-in, we drop off our bags in our room and we are right back out the door to see what the new city holds. Be purposeful with your colleagues and team members to explore the sites of the districts, schools, or organizations from the sessions you attended. Find out if they are close enough to visit, more about their philosophy, vision, and mission, and answers to those questions you did not have time to ask or those that were not related to the session.
  • Stay engaged. Remember why you came. While we can imagine that we have traveled to a different city or state, the fact remains that you might be at the kitchen table with your two children virtually learning beside you. Do your best to stick to the plan you created so that you can stay focused, but do not become overwhelmed. Remember that you will have access to other sessions for the day or days you registered for 30 days after the conference is over.
  • Anticipate next year. You always walk away full and pumped up for next year. Mark your calendar for 2021!
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Lisa Jackson is in her eighth year of service to the School District U-46 community.  In the position of coordinator of assessment and accountability, she has had the fortune of doing what true coordinators have the privilege of doing; bringing together resources that have developed consciousness, building relationships throughout the community, creating a culture of responsiveness, and ultimately developing systems for improvement at both the school and central office level for meaningful and equitable outcomes for students from all background, current conditions, and future ambitions. Those are just a few reasons she enjoys working in public education. Being a member of Learning Forward has provided her ample opportunities to stretch her thinking, engage in mindful and heartful discussions and learning, and to develop positive and uplifting relationships with other educators. Lisa has been waiting for this conference for over a year, and knows that it will be more than worth the wait.

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